Opinion: The Strategic Execution Framework

Innovation. Agility. Performance. Scalability. Are these among the key initiatives for your company this year?

Innovation. Agility. Performance. Scalability. Are these among the key initiatives for your company this year? When we pose this question to our customers in a range of industries including technology, financial services, energy, manufacturing and others, the responses are strikingly similar. In fact, a recent survey by U.S.-based The Conference Board of nearly 800 CEOs from around the world on their most pressing issues found consistent results. Innovation, human capital and global expansion topped the list – and all require significant effort by IT teams to succeed.


Building Blocks for Strategic Execution

So how do you break this down and make it doable? Consider first that the building blocks for strategic execution are often IT projects – activities put in place alongside regular operations to achieve specific goals. New businesses, products, services, channels and markets are often driven by IT project-based work. Successful strategic execution therefore requires tightly aligning the IT project portfolio to the overall corporate strategy to ensure these efforts are adding value.


It’s no secret that achieving alignment and maximizing performance of IT project-based work is critical to successfully executing strategy. But if your company is like most – having invested in training to ensure managers have the skills to balance scope, time, cost, quality and risk – why do barriers to successful execution still exist? What’s needed is a broader framework that considers IT project-based work within the context of the enterprise.


Breaking Down Barriers to Success

The Strategic Execution Framework (SEF) was developed to help companies stay on track, aligning IT projects with key initiatives to achieve desired outcomes. The SEF goes beyond a typical checklist to address a more holistic and, therefore, more effective approach to moving the business forward from an enterprise-wide perspective.


As you have seen throughout the series, the SEF consists of six domains remembered by the mnemonic: INVEST. The framework has been proven time and again to help companies focus so that they are selecting and executing the most strategically advantageous IT projects, and are executing those projects effectively. As a reminder, the domains are:

  • Ideation is your company’s understanding of what it is and how it appears in the world, expressed through its purpose, identity and long-range intention.
  • Nature creates the conditions for strategic execution. It embodies the culture and structure within which, you operate.
  • Vision includes the goals, metrics and strategy that form the foundation for your business.
  • Engagement connects the enterprise strategy to IT project portfolio investments and clearly demonstrates that your company is funding the right IT projects to further its strategy.
  • Synthesis is where engagement meets execution, ensuring you’re successfully executing IT projects and programs in alignment with the IT portfolio as well as the enterprise’s overarching strategies.
  • Transition is the ultimate measure of success, where you move the results of IT project-based work into the mainstream of operations.


The Real World

Frameworks and discrete domains are easy to explain, however applying them as a working ecosystem to real world challenges can be difficult to envision. During the last couple of years, one global technology company’s global customer delivery PMO has successfully used the SEF to improve client satisfaction and increase sales.


The PMO team had been struggling with having the perspective and agility required to help their customers make their way to the cloud. After several failed attempts to adjust their vantage point and behaviors they decided to adopt the SEF as their universal approach. Over 24 months the 300 plus PMO team received extensive training on applying the SEF, which provided a base methodology and vocabulary for the highly distributed team – and immediately improved internal communications.


Application of the SEF significantly shifted client conversations from tactical execution of project-based work to more substantive discussions. PM’s now begin by exploring the client’s larger strategic goals for the investment, what metrics they will be using to assess longer term success (not just initial project completion), and which domains may currently be misaligned – as one PM leader put it, “being able to see a troubled program coming from a distance because the client is out of alignment, which allows us to include that in our risk assessment.” This kind of transformative change is not easy to achieve. Without a proven framework, it’s practically impossible.


Enabling Transformation

Each of the domains presents opportunities for improvement. The Strategic Execution Framework helps you identify gaps and barriers to successful strategic execution and can be adapted depending on your company – or your client’s – strengths and weaknesses. Some companies know exactly who they are and what they want to be, but don’t have the structure to support it. Others may tend to focus on the tactical and veer away from the portfolio. And still others may have particular difficulty making the final step of institutionalizing the results of their IT projects and programs.

Download The Strategic Execution Framework guides


No matter which domains of the framework are more relevant for you, or what your key business and IT initiatives may be, the SEF provides a common language and way of understanding how businesses and their IT teams successfully execute, innovate, change and grow. You can assess your organization within this context and make necessary adjustments to create a foundation for balanced strategic execution. When combined with the SEF’s proven, innovative techniques, all managers leading IT project-based work can transform themselves – and their organizations – into true business leaders.


To begin a conversation on how you can use the SEF to help drive your business forward, contact an IPS Learning expert at +1 866.802.1152, or [email protected].


The Strategic Execution Framework (SEF) was developed by the Stanford Advanced Project Management program, a partnership between IPS Learning and the Stanford Center for Professional Development. The SEF is described in detail in the book Executing Your Strategy: How to Break It Down and Get It Done (2007, Harvard Business School Press).

Tim Wasserman is the CLO IPS Learning & Program Director the Stanford Advanced Project Management Program

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